ST. PAULS — Along with trying to have his players buy in for a new coaching staff, St. Pauls football coach Ernest King is wanting the Bulldogs to leave everything from last season in the past.
“We’re trying to put the past behind us. What happened last year was last year and the biggest thing is discipline,” King said. “The kids are excited. They are excited with the new regime.”
St. Pauls went 3-8 last season and was riddled with injuries, and King is hoping that with a full offseason with the team that this season can be a turnaround for the program both on the field. Last season was the first season the Bulldogs missed the state playoffs since 2009.
“We had a good spring with the kids and then we turned around in the summer and they haven’t forgotten anything we’ve taught them,” he said. “We tell the guys the most important thing is to do the right things consistently.”
King posted a 21-15 record in three seasons with the Golden Bulls, taking his squads to the 4A state playoffs each year. He also has a history with Robeson County as a former assistant under Bill Dockery at Lumberton. He replaces Trey Sasser, who was 41-53 in eight seasons with the Bulldogs with two winning seasons.
The Bulldogs return all-county and all-conference offensive lineman Elijah White and linebacker Chris Ray from last season and will be two strong points on an experienced defensive front seven.
“Defensively we are ahead of schedule,” King said. “Our front three — Elijah white, Tre King and Christian Dunn, are really working hard.”
The three-senior defensive line will be backed by Chris and Dayshawn Ray for a defensive unit that has progressed faster than the offense thus far this offseason.
With the experience up front, St. Pauls will look to get in-game experience for an inexperienced defensive backfield.
“Our secondary’s young,” King said. “What I mean by young is we’ve got seniors back there but they haven’t played much back there.”
Devante Hinson, King’s son, transferred to St. Pauls from Arkansas for his senior season and will look to add depth while the front seven will be looked upon to get pressure on offenses to help out the secondary that’s learning on the fly.
“It does (help) because when you turn around and get pressure on the quarterback and do things we like to do defensively,” King said. “It gives them guys (the secondary) a chance to get experience… and it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on them to make big plays.”
Noah Wheeler has taken on the role as starting quarterback with running back Chris Graham and wide receivers Michael Barnes and Dakota Oxendine leading a offense that has multiple weapons around the field. Wheeler makes the move from wide receiver to prove an athletic weapon to start the offense for the Bulldogs.
“What we tell him is he’s one of best athletes and you’d got the ball in your hands to start every play. It starts with you,” King said. “He has really bought in and he’s improved throwing the ball from the first 7-on-7 to now and our receiving corps has got better as well.”
St. Pauls’ offense features several players making the move from different positions to the offensive side of the ball. Caleb Inman played running back and defensive back last season and will go to the slot receiver position, Graham is moving from seeing time in the secondary last year to running back and Dijuan McNair flips across the ball from cornerback to wide receiver.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” King said. “Our biggest thing (on offense) is if you do what you’re supposed to do, we’re going to have success. They believe in that. If you mess up on a play, that play is over with, let’s go to the next one.
The Bulldogs will open the season at home Friday against Grays Creek, before a trio of road games.
“We’re were we want to be, right now, before the first game.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.